Who knew the DC Universe could be so…zany?
In 2013, Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner and Chad Hardin shook up the world of monthly super hero comics when they released the first issue of Harley Quinn, their brutally funny book chronicling the misadventures of the hammer-wielding anti-heroine. Since then, they’ve introduced us to Harley’s diminutive pal, “Big Tony,” sent Ms. Quinn on a covert mission with an octogenarian super-spy, found a way to make roller derby even more violent than it already is, and shown us why there’s no better friend than a half-rotten taxidermied beaver…thing.
Palmiotti and Conner wrote it, Hardin drew it and all of you bought it in droves, making Harley Quinn one of the most successful titles in The New 52. Now, Harley’s world is about to get even wilder as this week’s HARLEY QUINN #16 introduces us to The Gang of Harleys—Quinn’s new team of assistants that may be even crazier than she is. And that’s just the beginning. June brings with it the debut of STARFIRE, a new ongoing comic that presents a whole new side of everyone’s favorite Tamaranean Titan, as well as HARLEY QUINN AND POWER GIRL, a new miniseries reuniting the wonderfully unlikely duo. Both comics are written by Conner and Palmiotti, and both promise to push their unique blend of imagination and humor to new heights. That is, if the well-known comic book couple can keep from cracking each other up long enough to get anything written.
We recently sat down with Palmiotti, Conner and Hardin for a lively little chat to learn what awaits us in Harley Quinn and Starfire, find out what their work process is like, and discover how the secret to success may just be failing spectacularly.
Cover art for Harley Quinn #17 by Amanda Conner
Between Starfire, Harley Quinn and Power Girl, you two seem to excel at writing offbeat female characters, often with humor—do you know why that is? Is that just your personalities?
Jimmy: We’re pretty happy people.
Amanda: And maybe it translates into our writing?
Jimmy: Maybe it translates, yeah, because we’re pretty content and happy.
Amanda: And we really love silliness. Maybe there’s a shortage of it in a lot of comics, so it’s kind of refreshing.
Jimmy: When I’m doing stuff and Amanda’s doing stuff, we’re trying to make each other laugh all the time. By the time poor Chad gets the script, it’s just full of all our craziness. We entertain each other, and then it’s up to Chad to kind of do the hard stuff. It’s definitely the tone. It’s kind of easy to write light stuff, and I just think it’s because The New 52 has been pretty dark.
Amanda: It’s heavy.
Jimmy: I think it stood out because it was sort of like your radio station playing something that isn’t the norm. It stood out that way.
Chad, I’m curious, what are their scripts like? Is it full of nuttiness between them?
Chad: It is the most unique book I’ve ever been on. With these guys it’s just like, left turn! Right turn! Maps be damned! But it’s fun. That’s what keeps you interested. That’s what keeps it fun and exciting. Every script I’m like, okay where are we going now? Oh boy!
Cover art for Starfire #1 by Amanda Conner
Talking about Starfire for a bit, what can we expect about the new series? It takes the character in a completely different direction, right?
Amanda: I think so. It’s also going to have more of a light tone to it. We’re moving her down to Key West, where I think being orange just gets chalked up to taking too many of those tanning pills, and it’s about her dealing with and being dealt with by regular people like us. How do you deal with a six-foot tall, gorgeous, orange alien in your midst? How do you assimilate her into your world?
Chad: I would like that challenge. I volunteer to be the ambassador for the human race!
Jimmy: She wanted a break from the super heroes and the super-villians and being an alien, she decides she wants to get to know the regular people.
Amanda: Humans! All she’s been dealing with are metahumans and super heroes and she wants to understand regular people.
Jimmy: It will definitely be a POV kind of story as far as how she sees things happening around her, in a way. I think it will be interesting for readers because it will take a close look at what we do and there’s a lot of humor in that, because people are insane.
Amanda: Why would they do that?!
Do you think the issues will be largely standalone, like with Harley?
Amanda: I think less so.
Jimmy: Yeah, I think it will be more of a continued story. It’s actually about her assimilating a little bit, so the story’s actually going to keep going. It’s nice to be writing and not thinking about how it’s going to fit in the trade. We just write it, and then we hope for the best. We hope the audience wants to come along. That’s initially how we started Harley—let’s just write it the way we see it and hopefully somebody likes it. If they don’t, we’ll know and it will be canceled, just like 85 other things I did.
Cover art for Harley Quinn and Power Girl #1 by Amanda Conner
Did you guys expect Harley to be such the success story?
Jimmy: There’s no way we would have done it!
Amanda: It would have been scary!
Jimmy: If we said, we have to make this successful, then it wouldn’t have been the same book.
Chad: There’s no way they would have given it to me!
Jimmy: We came out of the gate with the zero issue and its seventeen artists, and we were thinking, let’s just go crazy and have fun, and hopefully somebody buys it. That’s really what you do with most books. There’s no guaranteed hit with any book. There really isn’t. When you don’t have that fear, that I have to be successful, you can kind of experiment, and we thought maybe it will go under the radar a little bit because who’s going to buy a regular Harley series?
Amanda: We can get away with more stuff when nobody is watching, you know?
Jimmy: Then you learn that you can get away with stuff when it sells really well. When it start selling, it’s like , “Oh my god, they’ll let me do that.”
Chad: There’s a lot of scrutiny too. I make more changes on Harley than I do on any book.
Amanda: I’m sorry.
Chad: No, you’ve got to try and push it a little bit.
Amanda: It is the book of red flags.
Jimmy: We should do a whole red flag issue!
Amanda: That’s a really good idea! I just pictured it in my head!
Jimmy: Yeah, but would it just be a bunch of blurry images?
Chad: Bring back the Comic Code Authority stamp and just stamp it everywhere!
Chad, with humor comics, so much depends on the art. Jimmy and Amanda can write the jokes and the funny moments, but the art needs to sell it. You’ve got to have the right character reactions, the right comedic timing… Is that something that you’ve always enjoyed doing? Did you have a lot of experience with comedy?
Chad: Just thank MAD Magazine. I grew up on MAD. That was a huge part of my whole comics experience. The art in those… I drive my writer friends crazy because I’ll tell them half the time I’m not even reading their story , I’m checking out what their artist is doing. It drives them nuts. It was the same with MAD Magazine. MAD has some of the most fantastic artists ever illustrating it. When you’re a kid, everything is different. I never knew where I was going to land. I wanted to do comics, but growing up in Las Vegas pre-Internet, I didn’t know how to approach the whole thing. You just sort of learn, you watch the world around you and pick up everything as you go.
Amanda: By the way, this is going to be a huge compliment to you. We gave the first couple Harley issues to my dad. He was like “This reminds me of MAD Magazine!” I was just so full of pride that I got to tell that to you because I knew you’d be like, “YES!” That’s like the highest compliment from my dad, because my dad LOVED MAD Magazine when he was a kid.
Art from Harley Quinn #16 by Chad Hardin
Jimmy, I was looking at your work—Power Girl, Batwing, All-Star Western, Harley Quinn and G.I. Zombie… You’ve been pretty diverse and eclectic, trying different types of storytelling within the DC Universe, from the start. I feel like in some ways, the entire DC Universe has since gone in that direction. Is it fun and refreshing to see that?
Jimmy: I’ve always liked switching up things. I like genre stuff and if you look at all of those titles, even the super hero ones are less super hero-y than most people write them. I’ve always had a tendency of grounding characters in some kind of reality. That’s always been my style, but that it actually sells for a change is kind of nice, you know? With Jonah Hex, we always felt like we were going to get canceled any minute. Even G.I. Zombie just didn’t find its audience—I’m still proud as hell of it but it didn’t find an audience. It will later on, when I’m dead it is going be a big hit!
I always tell people, if you learn to fail, and you can take it and roll with it into your new project, it empowers you to try new things because you’re not worried about failure. If you can get used to that on some level, then you’re not worried about it. You just kind of go all in, and that’s what I’ve been doing with my work for a long time. I go all in. Sometimes it doesn’t work, sometimes it does, I’m glad this week it’s working, but a year from now, who knows? I just keep trying. That’s all.
Chad: Your failures make you stronger.
Jimmy: I must be really strong then!
Chad: There you go.
Are there any titles you’re looking forward to with this new batch?
Jimmy: Bizarro. That’s insanity. There’s a whole bunch of stuff!
Amanda: There’s a lot of them….I want to read that, and I want to read that.
Chad: Black Canary as the punk rocker.
Jimmy: There’s a lot of great ideas, and the executions are going to be really interesting. It’s going to be a good month, June.